EPIC Sessions: Heavy Rotation Records Gets Boston Poppin’ at Berklee

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Boston’s celebrated Heavy Rotation Records turns 20 years of age this year.

Kids of the 90’s stand up: Y’all feeling kinda old right now?

Really? 1995 is like, two decades ago now? Seriously, my mind is blown over this very idea too; I feel like I was crushing on Shirley Manson just yesterday and was watching the debut of WCW Monday Nitro, like, the other night. Then again, in spite of being 2015, I was likely doing these very activities, literally, “yesterday” (Shirley still sounds and looks amazing, you guys) and “the other night” (stupid WWE Network addiction).

Anyway, before we get into stories from the 90’s of young Mr. Golden’s love for Friends, let us focus on the subject you clicked on this link for: my experience at Berklee Performance Center this past Wednesday night, as Heavy Rotation Records presented its 15th Annual Epic Event (I LOVE the simplicity of the title), celebrating the release of the latest in their ongoing label compilation series, Dorm Sessions X. If you are familiar with the latest roster of Heavy Rotations acts, then you knew this latest drop was going to feature some of today’s Boston music community’s very best in action. The Dorm Sessions series, which has in the past featured early works by Annie Clark (St. Vincent), Big D & the Kids Table, Passion Pit (working as The Peasantry), and scores more, has annually become one of our scene’s most eagerly anticipated releases.

That said, in order to cheer the Dorm Sessions, one needs to know why it’s important to cheer Heavy Rotation Records – and its homebase, Berklee College of Music – itself: like any great liberal arts institution that dares to not only think outside the box, but build a box all their own to think outside of – Berklee bucked traditional academic trends from the start: an institution who tore up the musty, dusty old rulebook that adhered to the creaky, antiquated doctrine of Western art music. Rather, the Berklee faculty and its student body made the academic pursual of popular music study their credo and way of life. Berklee graduates have achieved a total of 175 Grammys since the school’s beginnings in 1945 as Schilling House, founded by Lawrence Berk. Check out that star-studded alumni: Quincy Jones. Kevin Eubanks. John Mayer. Melissa Etheridge. And the list, as they say, goes on and on. It was only fitting that Berklee would soon boast its own record label: and this is where we pick up the story, in 1995… fast forwarding to 2015, where your boy Mr. Golden sits front and center at Berklee Performance Center for this year’s Epic Event.

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Facts only: each of the 10 acts featured live onstage this past Wednesday night brought their A-game to greater heights –  a roster including I/O, Fever Charm, The Rare Occasions, Grey Season, and Amy & The Engine – playing their hearts out for the crazy poppin’ capacity crowd on hand at Berklee. This was a class showcase of a cross-section of genres and styles, putting on display the kind of excellence this collective of artists has learned from their time as students of Berklee. You could feel a legitimate love for the international language of music from deep within each of these talented, gifted performers.

For Mr. Golden’s money, out of this roster of superior young talent, a few in particular managed to stand out in my mind:

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Look at this man. The name is YEAH Dubz, and according to his social media bio, he is “Teh Ultimate In Teaching yeeuuu how 2 kick azz”. If one could describe the sound of the DJ known as YEAH Dubz, it’s probably best to default to “other”. There was a lot going on here, fam: just a supercharged pastiche of electric sounds ranging from dubstep to trap and so much more rocking in between. All I know is he got us in a frenzy. Like, the place just became a zoo when he was onstage. When doing some background research on YEAH Dubz, I found his name is Walter, and he’s got quite the YouTube theater going on, with videos showing you how to “Sound like Skrillex in 30 Seconds BRO!” (LoL!) and “How tew Make Big Room Houws”. I see a future BOSTON VIPs Show visit in store for YEAH Dubz. Pretty sure he would fit right in at STAGE Nightclub.

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The next act onstage, Cordelia & the Buffalo, a herd (yes I went with the obvious. Go ahead and throw a shoe at me) of world-elite musicians who came together from Mexico, Japan, Venezuela, Norway and Alaska. With the full bodied, soulful voice of Mexican-American singer/songwriter Cordelia Vizcaino at the forefront, this brilliant electronic indie outfit bursts forth with electro, pop and alternative style, an original breed of sound that sent us into a 10-minute stratosphere of audio ecstasy. When seeking out Dorm Sessions X, make it a point to “drop a needle” on Cordelia & the Buffalo’s joint “Hands Like Guns”. You’re welcome.

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Following Cordelia & the Buffalo was the group I personally was anticipating most of all, recent BOSTON VIPs guests OH, MALO. It may sound like a safe, generic description, but B, it fits: Brandon, Jordan, John & Manu not only met Mr. Golden’s sterling expectations, they above & beyond exceeded them. Being a big fan of both the BLUE and the RED releases on Fitz Ross Records, I knew to expect a kaleidoscope of colorful, emotional indie rock bliss. Much to my happiness, OH, MALO proceeded to come at us with an energy and sound even sharper than what they’ve treated us to in the studio. It’s hard to believe this is a group who has only been with us for just a shade over a year. On this night, in a two-song performance, OH, MALO had the attitude, disposition and sound of well-traveled, road-weary seasoned veterans. Which is an absolutely perfect thing to these ears. I left Berklee this past Wednesday night even more excited for this group’s future than I already was coming in. It does me proud to see outlets like Vanyaland champion OH, MALO. They are most deserving of their growing buzz.

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With nothing but respect to OH, MALO, however, in the mind of Mr. Golden, the show-stealing performance at the Epic Event belonged to 3 SUDACAS. Comprised of Nella Rojas (lead vocal/percussion), Esther Rojas, (bass/background vocal), and Eduardo Mercuri (guitar/background vocal), the Venezuela-Brasil connection that is 3 Sudacas represent a fusion sound that embraces popular & original material, boasting a marriage of jazz harmonies and pop seasonings. I will admit this here and now, you guys: I was not aware of 3 Sudacas before this event. After it, I was all too aware and all too enthused to seek out more by this galaxy trio. They took an iconic Michael Jackson hit I never really cared for – “The Way You Make Me Feel” – and regrooved it into something that sounded beautiful and wholly original. That, to these ears, is the mark of a great cover song; take something and make it sound like something of your very own. Again, I see some future BOSTON VIPs here. I look forward to someday sitting Nella, Esther and Eduardo down to chop it up on the show.

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KYLE THORNTON & THE COMPANY. I’m not sure if anything more needs to be said, you guys. If you are a part of our scene, chances are you’re well aware of the growing legend behind this incredible soul/R&B/hip-hop group. Richmond, Virginia-born Kyle Thornton grew up with the sweet sounds of R&B, soul, gospel and the blues filling his heart, his mind, and his ears. This early exposure would provide the springboard to achievement for Kyle; he would begin his path singing in his home church’s choir, and move onward to Berklee College of Music, where after a brief solo run, Kyle would find himself jamming with a collection of ultra-talented newfound friends; this jam session would soon give way to Kyle Thornton & the Company.

From that first session, to hugely over singles like “Lemonade”, to working on their imminent debut joint Space to Move, and finally to the Berklee Performance Center stage this past Wednesday night…you could immediately feel the mutual love & positive vibes felt from band to audience and back full-circle, a connection that was deep & personal that went far beyond just enjoying their music. Kyle Thornton & the Company impressed me not only for their outstanding musicianship and stage presence, but for turning that stage into their two-song holy ground.  For 15 minutes, we saw a celebration of music and life, led by the group and fed by the screaming faithful around me. I felt the connection and let me tell you, family, it was a rush. SALUTE, gentlemen. We shall talk soon, for sure.

As of this writing, we are days away from another Oh, Malo live performance, happening this Wednesday, February 25 at the House of Blues’ Foundation Room: the second edition of a multi-act showcase known as THE TAKEOVER. Needless to say, Mr. Golden is excited to come through for this one. As I do, I will be doing so with this Epic Event fresh in my mind. It was an impressive night of performances, energy and love for music that I have not had the pleasure of experiencing in some time. Nights like these remind you why you love being a part of this industry so much: big ups to Grayson Kirtland & the Berklee family for being amazing hosts to me and for presenting such a tight event. If I didn’t do an individual writeup on your band in this piece, trust me when I tell you, it is NOT because I didn’t enjoy you. While certain acts jumped out to the forefront of my conscious after this event, I can say that each of the hard 10 delivered on that stage, and did so awesomely. I appreciated being there, and I will be making next year’s event appointment viewing (and listening, naturally). FACTS ONLY.

By the way: Jordan, what happened to the beard?